Zero Tail Relic
Photos by Dave Pluth
Text by Ryan Toews

Here are the details of the tail fin. It comes from an A6M3 32 s/n 3285. It was manufactured in November 42 and recovered from Ballale Island by Bob Diemert in the late ‘60s. My analysis of the paint is that it initially was painted with the red primer and then a coat of the gray-green hairyokushoku was applied. At some time afterwards a layer of dark green paint was sprayed over the hairyokushoku and then the tail code of 3-174 was painted on in white. The thickness of this layer suggests it was put on by brush. This white paint may have been used as an undercoat for the identical yellow painted designation or was used on its own and only later was it redone in yellow that was again applied by brush.

At any rate, the tail code 3-174 was subsequently overpainted by brush applied dark green paint and a new tail code painted on, this time by using a spray gun. This last applied code was the first to wear away and so for the most part only its “shadow” remains. The tail code suffix of –136 can be made out but the prefix is much more difficult to decipher. Look on the port side of the fin. The rounded bottom part of this prefix is visible and could be from a 3, 5, 6, 8, or 9. It looks like the upper part of the number may have had a flat top, indicating either a 3 or 5. Along the front edge of the fin some remains of yellow paint remain in such a position that suggests that the number was a 5 but this is very much open to interpretation of the paint remains.

Unfortunately neither the 3 nor 5 prefix can be identified. Jim Lansdale and Rick Dunn have come up with several other examples of the 3- prefix appearing on Zeros of the “Rabaul Air Force” in the fall of 1943 but the unit these planes belonged to cannot be identified. Ballale was abandoned in mid-October ’43 so the time frame seems to fit but obviously more research remains to be done.

Click photos to enlarge

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